The Road Not Taken
"How is he?" Chris asked.
"Asleep," replied Nathan as he sat down heavily in the chair beside Chris. He leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face tiredly with his hands. He paused, resting his forehead in his hands. "I gave him something to make sure he sleeps through the night, hes dangerously close to exhaustion."
"Sounds wise," said Chris nodding briefly.
Darkness had begun to descend and the evening was cool and quiet. The four friends sat in silence for a few minutes outside Josiahs room, each man going over the events of the day in his own mind.
"Where are Buck and Vin?" asked Nathan, his voice weary, as he sat back in his chair. At the moment, he felt very tired and a little resentful. Resentful at having to always deal with their sickness and their pain and because, this time, it was pain that his skills couldnt make go away, only provide a few hours of respite.
"Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Tanner have gone in search of our evening meal," replied Ezra.
"JD are you alright?" asked Chris. The kid had been awfully quiet since Josiahs revelation.
JD only nodded but the distressed look on his face indicated otherwise. "Im just sorta wishing I hadnt talked him into telling us what was bothering him."
"Im glad you did son," said Chris seriously, "something like that cant stay bottled up."
"And this is better?" The emotional edge to the young mans voice betraying his distress.
"Pain like that will eventually kill a man JD," replied Chris quietly. "Maybe not his body, but most surely his soul."
"You heard the Sheriffs report JD," said Ezra gently, "everything Josiah did was in reaction to his shock and his anguish over his discovery of an adult son."
The look on JDs face indicated he was still doubtful of the benefits of his actions. "Now what?"
"We wait until morning," stated Chris simply.
"Chris, not that I expect hell wake up but I dont want him to be alone if he does. I think someone should sit with him through the night." Nathan couldnt help but let the worry he still felt show on his face or in his voice.
"A wise precaution Mr. Jackson. If I may, Id like to volunteer for the first watch."
"You never volunteer Ezra," scoffed Nathan. "You must be pretty concerned."
"You are correct, on both accounts, Sir." The seriousness in Ezras voice had Nathan regretting his disdainful comment.
"Well take shifts," said Chris, "Ill take second shift, Buckll take the third."
"What about me?" asked JD, thinking they were doing it again, deciding he was too young to carry his share of the load.
"You, Nathan and Vinll take your turns tomorrow night," said Chris. "That way at least half of us will get a decent nights sleep." You and Nathan look like hell kid. You both need the rest.
Nathan nodded toward the entrance to the motel parking lot. "That looks to be Buck and Vin pulling in now."
+ + + + + + +
There had been little else they could make out from the fragmented sentences that had followed. Josiah could remember events but couldnt remember having any cognitive thoughts until the next day when he woke up in the jail cell.
Apparently, father and son had stood staring at each other speechless in their mutual recognition of one another. The son recovered first, saying something to the effect that his mother would be home soon, did Josiah want to come in and wait? At the invitation, Josiah had turned and fled. He drove a short distance down the highway until the sudden urge to vomit came over him. He pulled over in time to get out and be sick. He became disoriented and had difficulty catching his breath. He stumbled a few yards into the desert looking for the suburban and finally lay down on his back until his breathing returned to normal. How long that was, he wasnt sure, only that the sky had turned dark before he got up again. He then drove to the Roadrunner Bar.
Josiah then leapt out of his chair and started pacing. The questions came tumbling out of him. Why hadnt Rosemary told him? Dear God, how could she have kept such a thing from him all these years? He had loved her enough to marry her, didnt she realize that! Why hadnt he gone back, even just once, to make sure she was okay, to say good-bye? He should have known. How could he forgive himself for neglecting his own child? He was a spiritual man, "family" was a cornerstone of much of what he believed. How could God forgive him for what hed done? How could he forgive himself?
Josiah became progressively more distraught. Nathan was suddenly afraid Josiah would have a breakdown if something wasnt done to calm him down. It was at that point that Nathan threw the rest of them out of the room and before Josiah could react Nathan literally shoved a sedative down the mans throat. Even then, it was a full hour before Josiah finally fell asleep.
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat quietly in the chair between the window and the sleeping man on the bed. Even in the sedative induced sleep Josiah still didnt look peaceful. Chris settled back in the chair extending his legs onto the chair opposite him. He looked up at the moon through the slight opening between the curtains. A child a man should be able to greet his child with joy. Why couldnt it be so for this man? Josiah had done so much for so many others most of them would never even know his name. How many other parents and loved ones slept peacefully tonight because Josiahs profile had stopped some monster from hurting someone they loved? No one would ever know. Chris only knew that not watching your child grow up was a terrible price for a man to pay.
+ + + + + + +
Buck heard the screen door shift and rolled quickly off the far bed with surprising grace for such a tall man. He met JD at the door.
"Whatcha doing up?" he asked his partner in a whisper.
"I couldnt get back to sleep after Chris came and got you," replied the young man. "Got a minute Buck?"
"Yeah sure, but lets sit out here, just close the screen door so we can hear Josiah if he wakes up," instructed Buck.
They settled into the chairs and looked toward the east to watch the sunrise. "Whats on your mind?" Buck asked in a quiet voice.
"This afternoon when Josiah Well, when he started to ah you know, lose it a bit there. It umm ."
"It scared ya didnt it kid?" asked Buck gently.
"Yeah," JD nodded in reply.
"It scared me too," admitted Buck.
"Josiah always seems so on top of things, so in control, you know, nothing ever seems to get to him. He doesnt even hardly ever get mad and to see him so hurt that " JD let the sentence fade away.
Buck waited patiently, he knew his partner needed a little time to get to what was really bothering him.
"Buck, when I convinced Josiah to tell us what had happened I never expected anything like this. It hurt him so bad. I thought it would make things better. When I told you guys about what Id done, it felt good to get it out in the open. It had been tearing away at me on the inside for so long, it was such a relief when it was finally gone. I thought itd be the same for Josiah. Instead, it seems like its made matters worse, a lot worse."
"I know kid, I know," said Buck sympathetically.
"Chris said he had to let the pain out or it would kill him. I just wish it hadnt been me that caused it."
"Hey, now back up a minute JD. You didnt cause this," scolded Buck gently. "Nobody caused this. You heard what Josiah said. What could he have done different? He made all his choices for what he thought were the right reasons, just like you did when your Momma was sick."
"It doesnt seem right, to be hurt like that, its like hes being punished for being a good man."
"Life just happens JD. Its never easy, its rarely ever fair and pain is just a natural part of it."
"I guess." Buck could tell from JDs tone of voice that the kid wasnt convinced.
"Youll see, now that its off his chest, Josiahll feel a lot better in the morning," reassured Buck.
They sat in silence for a while as they watched the first light of the day breach the dark night with pink and purple streaks on the horizon.
"How could she do it Buck? How could this Rosemary lady have a baby, Josiahs baby and not tell him? Not tell him for twenty-five years. What kind of a person can she be?"
"Dont jump to any conclusions just yet JD. I grew up with a lot of women who had to make some hard decisions when it came to their kids. She may have had her reasons and until we hear her side of things we really dont know and when you get right down to it JD, this is just between her and Josiah."
They sat for a moment watching as a yellow sliver of the sun crested the horizon, with it the first stirrings of birdsong.
"Hmmm," replied Buck lost in thought.
"Its none of my business and nothing meant but do you ever wonder if there might be ? If somewhere you might have a you know."
"Its just about all Ive been thinking about for the last twelve hours JD."
+ + + + + + +
"How are you feeling this morning?" Chris squinted against the sunlight as he looked up from his chair at the tall figure that had just emerged from his room. It was mid-morning and as per Nathans instructions, they had let Josiah sleep.
"Not too bad all things considered," Josiah replied in a voice close to his usual strong baritone. "I could use something to eat though and about five cups of Vins coffee right now."
Josiah looked better for a nights sleep but there was something about the man that Chris couldnt quite put his finger on. An air of vulnerability that Chris hadnt been aware of before. It was this vulnerability that the anger had been shielding.
"Glad to hear my culinary skills are appreciated by someone," commented Vin.
"Who said that?" demanded JD looking around in mock puzzlement.
"Did Junior say that?" asked Buck, joining JD in teasing the quiet Texan.
"Will the bunch of ya stop lookin at me funny every time I use a word with moren two syllables, bein from Texas is not synonymous with a lack of vocabulary ya know," retorted Vin in a mildly exasperated tone of voice.
"He did it again," said JD, this time in mock amazement.
"Yeah I heard em too," said Buck, equally as amazed.
"I wonder why he did that?" asked JD looking mystified.
"You dont spose hes tryin to talk like Ezra do ya?" suggested Buck.
"Now why would anyone want to do that?" asked JD frowning.
"Good Morning gentlemen," said Ezra cheerfully. He was, as usual, the last one to appear and was adjusting his tie as he joined the group.
"Shut up already," Vin blurted out.
Ezra directed a startled look at Vin, "Pardon me Mr. Tanner. Have I, somehow, already this morning, managed to offend you in some way?"
"No Ezra, not you shut up, them shut up," explained Vin quickly, jerking his thumb in JD and Bucks direction.
"Its nice to see that the children havent been unduly upset by recent events," said Josiah to Chris while watching the by-play of words.
"It appears not," agreed Chris, playing along with Josiah.
Worry suddenly clouded JDs face. "Sorry Josiah, we didnt mean to ahhh make light of your situation."
"Its okay JD," replied Josiah with a reassuring little smile, "it sounds familiar and well comfortable."
Relief washed over JDs face as he returned the smile.
"Wheres Nathan?" asked Josiah wanting to divert everyones interest away from the painful subject.
"You know Nathan," replied Buck, "after that sedative he gave you yesterday you are now officially his patient, the devil himself wont stop him from personally supervising every scrap of food you put into your stomach for the next few days."
"The short answer is, hes gone to get breakfast," said Chris.
"Sedative?" Josiahs expression made it clear he didnt remember having taken the drug. "Is that why Ive got a head full of cotton batting this morning?" After a gentle sigh, "You gotta love the man for caring, but there are times he makes Bucks mother hen routine look like a marine drill Sergeant with a batch of raw recruits."
"Any thoughts on what you want to do next?" asked Chris.
"About what?" replied Josiah absently.
Chris threw the man an annoyed scowl.
"Okay, okay." Josiah raised a hand defensively as he turned his head away from Chris, shutting his eyes. He sighed. That man never quits. Opening his eyes and looking not at Chris but out into the desert, "I guess the first step is pretty obvious I should go talk to Rose."
"I think that might be the way to go," agreed Chris.
Turning troubled eyes on Chris, "I have to admit, just the thought of going to see her right now gives me the shakes inside."
"Either that or you are hypoglycemic. When did you last have any nourishment?" quizzed Ezra.
"Institution food at that, highly nutritious Im sure," said Ezra, not sparing the sarcasm, "not to mention appetizing."
"Ezra you sound like Nathan," teased Vin
" Or Buck." said JD snickering.
"Hey! Whatd I do to you to deserve an insult like that!" demanded Buck. "I am in no way like Ezra!"
"Having just been compared with you, I believe I am the insulted party Mr. Wilmington," corrected Ezra with a raised eyebrow.
Vin and JD whooped with laughter while Chris and Josiah werent entirely successful at smothering their chuckles at Ezras haughty reply and Bucks accompanying indignant expression.
"Actually Ezra," Josiah cut in as Buck was about to comeback with another barb, "the diner makes all the meals for the prisoners and the foods pretty good."
"Sure hope so," said Vin still chucking, "heres Nathan now."
+ + + + + + +
Chris was not pleased that his question had been swallowed up in the morning "smart remarks" exchange but maybe it was for the best. Chris knew he could push too hard sometimes, the others were just letting him know they thought it was too soon. Chris was a little amazed at how quickly the balance had returned to the team, just by having all seven of them together again.
Chris also knew that despite Josiahs taking part in the usual banter among the men, he was still emotionally bruised and vulnerable. It wasnt likely that any of them would be able to protect him from what was yet to come. It was a road Josiah still had to travel, at least now, he wouldnt have to travel that road alone.
+ + + + + + +
The motel office sat next to the highway and a dozen modest rooms extended from the office perpendicular to the road, leaving plenty of room for parking in front of the rooms. A row of tall trees grew in a wide arc that began opposite the motel office entrance and finished opposite the last motel unit. The trees provided a semi-private area for a patio and pool. More of the Adirondack style chairs sat on the patio area while some chaise lounge style chairs sat in the pool area.
They had dragged the Adirondack chairs around to form a circle on the patio and sat amiably kibitzing with one another in the bright morning sunshine while they ate their breakfasts off the wide armrests of the chairs. Everyone agreed with Josiah that the diner food was indeed very good. Nathan had had the forethought to provided two extra large coffees per man. They were starting into their second cups when the boss figured it was time to get some questions answered.
Suspecting Josiah would be reluctant to answer based on his reaction to Nathans inquiries the day before "Josiah, consider answering this question an order. Howd you get that bruise on your belly?" asked Chris, his manner businesslike.
Josiah took long lingering drink from his coffee cup and then sat looking at his cup as if he were considering his answer.
"Agent Sanchez," prodded Chris.
Josiah looked none too happy about having to answer the question. "The Sheriff," he replied curtly.
"The sheriff?" repeated Chris.
"Elaborate Agent Sanchez," ordered Chris when it looked like Josiah wasnt going to say anymore.
"When I wouldnt come quietly the Sheriff took things or should I say her nightstick in hand to ensure my co-operation."
"She did that!"
"Josiah, thats police brutality!"
"Shes not getting away with it!"
Chris said nothing. The icy expression in his eyes said it for him.
"Now hold on everyone! Settle down and hear me out," he ordered as he eyed each one of them in the circle until he was sure they were all listening. "Id been asked twice to come quietly. Id broken one mans arm and Id just put another man half my age and a helluva lot bigger than me on the floor. She had no way of knowing what I was gonna do next. The motto is "to protect and to serve" well shed tried twice to serve me and I put her in the position of having to protect everyone else from me. It was her job and she wasnt about to fool around."
"Even so, Josiah there was no need ."
"Nathan, think about it," interrupted Josiah, "Someone my size, angry as hell, drunker than hell half outta my mind up against someone the size of JD."
They looked from Josiah to JD sizing up the difference in stature and mentally factoring in one very angry and very drunk profiler. The horrified indignant mood of a moment ago quickly dissipated.
"Josiah, taking into account your inebriated condition at the time, are you sure the Sheriff didnt take any unnecessary action or use any unnecessary force?" Chris voice was stern. Now that Josiah was back with them, be damned if he was going to let him get hurt again if he could help it.
"Chris, Im quite sure," replied Josiah firmly, then turning a threatening eye on Nathan. " and Nathan youre not looking at my belly or any other part of me. Its just a bruise."
"I know," said Nathan, "I already looked at it after you fell asleep yesterday."
"You what! Thats an invasion of my privacy."
"Lord give me strength," muttered Nathan in his annoyance as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair to eye Josiah coolly. "So sue me."
In their part of the circle, Buck, JD, Vin and Ezra were seated facing the motel office. During the exchange between Chris and Josiah they had watched as a jeep pulled up in front of the office. A slender man of about thirty had gotten out of the jeep and had started up the short flight of stairs leading to the office. He had paused half way up the steps and had turned to look back at the circle of friends. He cocked his head slightly to one side as if listening. His eyes had remained riveted on the group as he backed down the steps and started walking towards them.
Chris, Josiah and Nathan then noticed the eyes of the other four focused on something behind them and turned in their chairs to see what held the attention of the others.
"Josiah?" asked the stranger as he approached the group.
Josiah turned to fully face the newcomer as he rose from his chair. "Im sorry, do I know my god! Mark?" he gasped in disbelief.
"Close but not quite," was the chuckled reply.
"David!" Josiah exclaimed in sudden recognition of the grown-up son of the friend from so long ago.
The strangers smile widened in response.
The two men took the remaining two strides between them and shook hands warmly. Josiah then growled "ah hell" as he embraced the young man in a bear hug that was warmly returned.
Josiah drew back from the younger man and held him by his shoulders at arms length. "Look at you! All grown up!"
"I hope so after twenty five years," laughed David Christianson.
David Christianson was Josiahs height but with a slender build. His dark brown hair was stylishly cut and complimented his brown eyes. A wide smile softened the slight sharpness of his facial features.
"Youre taller than your father," Josiah said with both joy and a hint of sadness in his voice at the comparison of the son who stood before him to his memory of the father.
" and youre a lot shorter than I remember," replied David teasingly.
"What would you remember? You were six years old the last time I saw you."
"More than you think," replied David still smiling. "The moment I heard your voice from across the parking lot and I knew it was you. All those Dr. Suess books you read with me, I guess."
"Ohhh," Josiah groaned with a grimace that broke into a smile, "You know I can still recite "Green Eggs and Ham" from beginning to end."
"Youll be happy to know Ive graduated to "Horton Hears a Who," laughed David.
Someone behind Josiah cleared his throat and Josiah was suddenly reminded that the team was behind him.
He turned to see they are all standing now and watching the reunion with great interest. "David, Id like you to meet my friends."
Moving around the circle of standing men, "Nathan Jackson, Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, Ezra Standish, Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee."
When named, each man took a single step forward to shake hands with David Christianson. Nathan, Buck and Vin nodded, JD said "Hi" and Ezra nodded with a formal "Mr. Christianson." Chris made no other acknowledgment of the introduction.
"God its good to see you," said Josiah, his voice full of warmth. The agent was definitely off his stride because without thinking he asked, "What are you doing here?"
Davids smile wilted a bit as his demeanor became subdued. "I came looking for you."
Josiah grew quiet. The joy of the moment was abruptly replaced with the realization as to why David was here.
"Mom wants to see you," he said gently.
A wary expression clouded Josiahs eyes. Chris could see it. They all could see it. Josiahs sense of emotional self-preservation was kicking in.
"When you wouldnt see her at the jail, I thought maybe you might see me," David explained. "By the time I got to the Sheriffs office yesterday youd already left."
David waited a moment for a response, when none came he continued on. "Josiah, please give her a chance, she wants to explain about Sam."
At the unexpected mention of Sams name pain flared in his chest. Josiah stepped back suddenly and turned away from David, as if trying to protect himself from a physical blow, only to end up facing the team.
Chris saw it felt it. Josiah needed rescuing. He stepped forward suddenly and took Josiah by the arm, turned and steered him away from the group as they walked together across the parking lot.
The abruptness of the action left David wondering what had just happened. He took a step as if to follow them.
"Id give em a minute if I were you," said Vin suddenly.
David stopped and turned to looked at Vin. A slight frown indicated his confusion.
"Chris just wants to have a few words," said Buck as if that was sufficient explanation.
"They wont be but a moment Mr. Christianson," assured Ezra. "I understand you are a Mining Engineer Sir. Your work must take to a number of interesting locales throughout the globe. I too, have done some traveling, have you ever been to ?" Ezra would distract David Christianson for as long as Chris needed time with Josiah.
Once they were safely out of earshot Chris stopped and let go of the arm. "You all right?" he asked as he turned to face his man.
"Yeah yeah, Im fine. It just caught me a little off guard that he knows about Sam. I guess I just assumed that the kids thought their stepfather was his father." What does Sam know about me?
Chris, nodding his understanding, asked, "What do you want to do?"
He turned to stare out into the desert. I want to have the faith without question. I want to be able to face this without the fear I have in my heart. "I have to see her I have to find out why she kept the truth from me."
"You dont have to do it her way."
Looking back at Chris he replied with a sad smile, "Yes I do Chris. I have to trust her." If I dont, it means the love I had for her all those years ago was a lie. Maybe thats what Im really afraid of.
"You want us to come along?"
"No." He replied shaking his head slowly as he spoke. "No Chris, this was a woman I once loved enough to consider marrying. I think I can face her without backup," There was a hint of amusement in his voice.
"Its your call." Be damned if Im gonna take any chances with your welfare if I can help it.
"I appreciate your concern Chris, but shes not a gun runner or a drug dealer, shes a sixty year old grandmother. Shes no threat to me."
Like hell shes not! "Just making sure."
+ + + + + + +
They bounced along in the jeep as David drove down the highway back towards town. Josiah watched him from the corner of his eye. It drew him back to flying with Mark in the left-hand seat all those years ago. So much like his father, he even moves the same way Mark did. What would be the difference in age between David now and Mark twenty-eight years ago four years? Physically the similarity between father and son is astounding. Everything but the eyes, they both have Rosemarys eyes.
"Josiah, what do you do with the ATF?"
"Im a forensic psychologist."
"A forensic psychologist?"
"More commonly known as a profiler."
"I develop criminal profiles that help to predict characteristics and behaviours of unknown perpetrators based on evidence from crime scenes."
"Sounds like interesting work."
"Hannah, how is she?"
"Fine ?" Josiah frowned, "How do you know about her?"
"Mom told us. Your sister needed you to take care of her after your father died, thats why you left so suddenly."
What else does he know? "What do you know about Sam?"
David gave him a quick uneasy sideways glance before he replied. "Its not my place Josiah. Youll have to ask Mom."
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